Practical advice for fire safety; Mt. Firestone was epic blaze


There has been a great deal written and spoken about what an enemy fire can be. It can be our best friend or worst enemy. Coming into the fall season, we should think about our appliances, smoke alarms, extension cords, and electrical appliances.

Evenings will start to chill and many space heaters will come out. More modern heaters are designed, if they tip over, to shut off. But there are many older types out there, that if tipped over, can start a fire. Be careful where you place space heaters. Keep them away from draperies, cloth furniture, curtains, etc.

If an appliance seems to be shorting out when turned off or on, have it serviced, because they can short, arc, and start a fire. Do not ever run extension cords under rugs that you walk over. 

Pay particular attention to how to use an extension cord, and be sure not to overload a single cord. Check your smoke alarms.

Be careful of heat lamps and space heaters in barns, keeping livestock warm. They can be knocked over by an animal and start a fire.

These are common-sense things, but happen every day to cause fires.

Be careful of kerosene lamps and lanterns. And if at all possible, stay away from candles. They are much more dangerous than a flashlight or battery-operated lantern.

I have been involved in fighting several fires on large mill sites. Fortunately, the mills I worked in all had sprinkler systems. However, some fires are stubborn, and they burn away from the water from the sprinkler system and have to be knocked down with water from a hose.

Plant sites I worked on in Everett, Wash., were modern up-to-date wooden structures, well sprinkled and maintained. 

Our plant site had a low number of employees in the winter – around 1,250 people. In the summer it was around 1,550. It had large, sprawling wooden structures, two to three stories high, manufacturing wood products, (lumber), and creating a lot of dust.

Mills cutting fir and hemlock were blown clean every two weeks, getting rid of dust from the ceiling, floors and rafters. Mills cutting cedar were blown clean every Friday night. This was a safety precaution to prevent the rapid expansion of fire from one end of the building to the other.

Everett, in 1900, was nicknamed the City of Smokestacks. There were sawmills, shingle and shake mills, pulp mills, plywood mills, on three sides of the city of Everett. I personally saw four large mills go up in flames and burn to the ground. The last two were The Canyon and The Eclipse. The Eclipse burned so hot and so fast the city of Everett lost two fire engines in that fire. 

The mills were located on the banks of the Snohomish River, and there was a 200-foot water tower adjacent to the main office. This water tower was a great deal like the one you see today in Junction City. When the wind shifted, it blew the heat of the fire in the mill on the legs of the water tower, which weakened, and the tower came down.

For many many blocks around, neighbors were out with hoses on their rooftops putting out spot fires, because of the tar paper and hot embers flying through the air.  

The strangest fire I witnessed was called Mount Firestone. In the late 1970s, a firm in Seattle leased 10-plus acres of an abandoned, capped landfill. It had been a city dump from the 1920s up to the late ’60s, when it was closed and the future garbage shipped out of the city. 

For years the landfill had been burned and crushed, covered with layers of earth, then more garbage piled on, and then burned, etc.

This company had a plan to reclaim rubber tires. They started buying abandoned tires, putting them on this site. They signed a contract with a paper company to burn ground-up rubber tires, mixed with their hog fuel to burn in the boilers to generate steam to turn their turbines and use for heat.

This was a short-lived agreement, as the toxins out of the stack were challenged by the industry and air pollution authorities.

The practice of burning rubber was stopped. The firm continued to purchase tires, with the idea of using them for roadways, walkways, and running tracks.

They encountered problems with the fire in the steel belted tires.

In the meantime, by fire department estimates, there were about four million tires on this 10-acre site, forming Mount Firestone. A fire broke out sometime in 1983. It was quickly extinguished, without a lot of effort. But on Sept. 24, 1984, a second fire broke out that erupted and spread quickly. The fire department told the reporters they thought they would have it out late that evening or the next morning. But … the fire burned so hot that it was starting to burn into the old garbage dump area the tires were stored on. Methane gas geysers would shoot fire into the air 30-40 feet. Pockets of explosions blew melted rubber and tires into the air, creating real hazards for the fire department, as it was so unpredictable, where they would pop up.

They poured hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, which created another problem – mixing melted rubber with water runoff into the Snohomish River that the landfill was adjacent to. Multiple agencies were involved. The fire department used foam, to no effect, and the decision was made to let it burn out. It burned, and then smoldered, until May 1986.

The initial weeks and months put tremendous pollution into the air of the Snohomish County area, depending on which way the wind was blowing.

We were on vacation in Everett and I saw black soot covering cars where you could not see out the windows, and it was piled three to four inches high along curbs.

They closed schools; businesses closed, and then reopened. The banks and other shops with carpets laid plastic floor coverings down for people to walk on. Everything was covered with black, gooey gunk.

I remember my dad and step-mother had newspapers all over their house to walk on. Most everyone left their shoes at the door.

The fire burned itself out. The city contacted a cleanup company for something like $97,000. The land, the last I saw it, was covered with green ryegrass and there are plans to build townhouses and city parks in that area, as well as the two mill sites adjacent to the 10 acres.



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